Pagan Culture - Opinion
©2012 Holly Golightly
Pagan Men, Unite!
by Isaac Bonewits
“Witchcraft is wimmin’s religion?!?” If that’s true, then is there a point to being a man in a “female-dominated” religion? Actually, there are lots of them — the Stag Lord is at least a thirteen-point buck, and those tines are there for something other than hanging the High Priestess’ garters on!
When I was writing The Pagan Man, one misconception I ran into over and over was that there’s “nothing for men to do” in the Craft, and that even a High Priest is “just a glorified altar boy.” Yet the same guys who were telling me this were also talking about how they taught the members of their coven how to drum, or to carve ceremonial masks, or about specific pantheons, or about how to spot lousy research. Of course, all of these jobs could be done by women, so there’s nothing specifically masculine about doing them — but nothing particularly feminine either!
The Craft as we know it today wouldn’t exist without its “Founding Fathers” — the men who devoted their lives to reviving the real (or imagined) worship of the Old Gods and Goddesses. Here’s just a double-handful to get started with.
The Roman author Apulius wrote The Golden Ass and gave the ancient world his vision of Isis as the Goddess who was all goddesses. Charles Godfrey Leland translated and published Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches. Sir James Frazer wrote The Golden Bough, providing later generations of Wiccans and other Pagans thousands of pages of intriguing ideas. Aleister Crowley was the archetypal “dirty old man” of ceremonial magic; wrote dozens of books that influenced later Pagans, and had his own transforming vision of the Goddess. Robert Graves wrote the beautiful (but most-unscholarly) book The White Goddess, based on his visions, as well as trustworthy books on Greek mythology that have been part of Wiccan reading lists from the beginning.
Gerald Gardner put all the work of those previous men together with ideas from Theosophy, Rosicrucianism, Tantra, and his own imagination to create what would come to be known as Wicca (if your teacher or the books you are reading are telling you otherwise, they’re fibbing), synthesizing what was probably the world’s first real religion of Witchcraft, working with half a dozen priestesses in the process. Alex Sanders, Stewart Farrar, Raymond Buckland, Gavin Frost, Victor Anderson, Carl Weschke, and other men wrote (or published, in Weschke’s case) highly influential books and started their own “ancient” traditions of the Craft—and not a one of them was “politically correct” or a “feminized male!” (To be completely honest, some of these guys were jerks in their private lives, but we can still take what was positive in their work and leave the rest behind.)
In more recent years, we’ve had: Scott Cunningham, who wrote Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner and Living Wicca, leading to an explosion of solitary Wiccans in the English and Spanish-speaking worlds. Aidan Kelly was one of the founders of the Eclectic Wicca movement in California and author of Crafting the Art of Magic, the first scholarly (if flawed) book about the birth of Wicca. Frederic Lamond, A. J. Drew, Raven Grimassi, Christopher Penczak, and other men have discussed, revealed, and/or invented new traditions of the Craft in which men are fully empowered witches. Other men, such as Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, founder of the first Neopagan religious organization, the Church of All Worlds; Ian Corrigan, an early member of Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship; and yours truly, (best known for founding ADF and writing books such as Real Magic and Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Witchcraft and Wicca) have all practiced varieties of Wicca in addition to their other Pagan work.
All of these famous men are far out-numbered by the thousands of Wiccan men who are quietly High Priesting covens, leading Pagan study groups, running Wiccan shops, organizing Wiccan festivals, researching Paleopagan history, teaching and practicing artistic and musical skills, editing Pagan publications, and otherwise taking leading roles in the geometric growth of the Craft around the world. To understand more about the roles played specifically in Wicca by men, it helps to have some vocabulary (I’m notorious for this stuff). As I explained in The Pagan Man:
Most Wiccan denominations/ traditions can be viewed on a value spectrum ranging from Orthodox/Conservative or so-called British Traditional on one end to Eclectic on the other. As is true for other Pagan paths, the influence of dualism in Western culture causes religious conservatism and liberalism to be usually (but not always) associated with political, social, sexual, and other forms of conservatism and liberalism by both practitioners and observers. Perhaps because of this, the closer to the conservative end of the scale, the more likely a given Wiccan tradition will be to insist that the Goddess is more important than the God and that both genders are needed for effective non-solitary ritual.
Yet whether we are talking about conservative or liberal Wicca, the vast majority of Wiccan traditions have men as members, leaders, or even founders. Conservative Wicca places a heavy emphasis on the polarity of male and female energy in balance with each other, so men are expected to individually or collectively generate half the energy in the ritual circle — which can be quite a challenge when you’re the only guy with four or five gals! In liberal Wicca, each participant is expected to carry his or her share of the magical work, regardless of gender.
Despite the centuries in which African Mesopagan faiths have been doing rituals where both gods and goddesses can possess both men and women, all but a few Wiccan trads seem to believe that only women can “draw down” the Goddess into themselves and only men the God. But if you’re not acting as the priest of a coven, this is usually irrelevant to a male experience of a Wiccan circle (if you are, I have a chapter on Pagan men as priests and wizards in the book).
On a social and small-group political level, however, it is a fact of life that many Wiccan traditions are matriarchal, with the oldest and/or highest ranking woman being able to overrule the wishes of the men (and the other women). Unless you are unlucky enough to hook up with a weak woman, you will probably never be in charge — get used to it. If you are lucky, on the other hand, you will find a strong woman who will accept you as an equal and share power willingly.
There are few (if any) Pagan paths in which males are allowed to exercise the kind of tyrannical power men routinely wield in some mainstream religions. Most of the non-Wiccan Neopagan and Reconstructionist paths (and some liberal Wiccan ones) are adamantly egalitarian these days, largely in reaction against matriarchalism.
So if you are in a conservative tradition of Wicca and think the High Priestess of the coven you are in, or the woman you hope to start a coven with, is too “bossy,” there is nothing to stop you from finding — or inventing — a more liberal/eclectic tradition where equality between the genders is practiced as well as preached.
Be careful about leaping to conclusions, however; some people are just bossy as part of their personality and not because they think their religion justifies or requires it — and if your High Priestess has a decade more experience than you, she may be acting from superior knowledge rather than ego. Or she could be a lunatic who simply enjoys cracking the whip over guys she has convinced are required to put up with rude treatment.
In that last case run, do not walk, to the nearest circle gate and vamoose! There are plenty of sane, strong women running covens who will welcome men to join them in the worship of the Old Gods and Goddesses. The bottom line here is that the Goddess and God love Their sons as much as Their daughters, and there is very little that a Pagan woman can do that a Pagan man can’t also.
— Isaac Bonewits (October 1, 1949 – August 12, 2010) was an influential American Druid who published a number of books on the subject of Neopaganism and magic. He was also a public speaker, liturgist, singer and songwriter, and founded the Druidic organization Ár nDraíocht Féin, as well as the Neopagan civil rights group, the Aquarian Anti-Defamation League. Born in Royal Oak, Michigan, Bonewits had been heavily involved in occultism since the 1960s. He died in 2010.
» Originally appeared in newWitch #14
Support Your Path —
Subscribe to Witches&Pagans magazine.